Photo Credit: NHL.com

Should the Canucks trade for Nikita Zaitsev?

As the calendar is about to turn to June, the NHL rumours and news are starting to come out fast and furiously.

Yesterday, Sportsnet Elliotte Friedman reported that the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nikita Zaitsev would look at getting a fresh start for the Russian defenceman:

So, naturally, the question is – “Should the Canucks be interested?”

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And the answer to that is quite simple, no. The Canucks should not trade for the defenceman for a couple of reasons. Simply put he isn’t going to be a difference maker in any way for the Canucks

Zaitsev bleeds shots and chances against while not creating an offence or drawing any penalities. According to Evolving-hockey.com, his wins-above-replacement last season was -0.5, which ranked last on the Leafs and his games-above-replacement was -2.8, which again was last on Toronto. For comparison sake, Erik Gudbranson had a -3.6 GAR and -0.6 WAR with the Canucks last season.

Furthermore, Zaitsev has five more years left on his contract that will come with a cap hit of $4.5M per season. That is a heavy contract that doesn’t generate much offence, gets buried in shot-share, and doesn’t particularly play a physical game.

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The Canucks were able to get out from the Erik Gudbranson contract this past deadline and acquiring Zaitsev would just give them a similar player with more term. Zaitsev had a very good rookie season in the NHL, which earned him this long deal, but has trended downwards since and it’s fair to believe that he won’t right the ship any time soon.

There have been suggestions that if the Leafs are going to add a player like Andreas Johnsson or Kasperi Kapanen to a Zaitsev deal, that it would make sense for the Canucks. Even with one of those players added, there negative value and cap weight of Zaitsev likely won’t be overridden by the benefit of the add-in. Add the fact that the Leafs could probably move Zaitsev to another team for a deal with a neutral or only slightly negative value.

It’s hard to see a match between the Canucks and Leafs on any deal involving Zaitsev.

The Canucks will need to make additions to their backend over the next six weeks but they have to be extremely careful in who they add. We’ve seen that there will be a multitude of players coming available and thus the Canucks should not subject themselves to the thought of even discussing acquiring Zaitsev.

    • Dirk22

      yesterday it was small players. Today its Russians. Let’s have a look

      Malkin – 168 points in 162 games. That seems good
      Ovechkin – 126 points in 128 games. Also the most playoff goals (61) of any player in the last 10 years. Any player.
      Kucherov – 61 points in 65 games
      Datsyuk – 113 points in 157
      Kuznetzov – 57 points in 70 games
      …….Tarasenko, Gonchar, Zubov, Panarin…..

      The reason to not sign Zaitsev is because he’s not particularly good. Not because he is Russian.

  • Goon

    Here’s where I see this deal making sense:

    If the Canucks can get Zaitsev from the Leafs along with a solid prospect or young roster player, they can give him a season to see if he can regain his rookie form. If not, they can buy him out, either after next season (which would leave a hair $1 million cap hit on their books for seven more seasons) or they can use a compliance buyout on him which they’ll presumably get after the next CBA negotiations (assuming they can find some way out from under the Eriksson contract and don’t have a pressing need to buy that contract out). Either way, they can see if Zaitsev has anything to give, and then either use him, or get him off the books (mostly) by the time the team is looking to be competitive again.

  • Doodly Doot

    It’s rumoured that Babcock talked Dubas into the Zaitsev contract. Now I’m hearing Kyle is packaging both Mike and Nikita for a 5th at the draft. Supposedly Anaheim is interested as they will need a new coach for the Gulls when they promote Eakins AND it fits with their philosophy of overspending on old crotchety guys. Also, getting a functional D means one less pro tryout in the fall! All this is still unconfirmed though.

  • Killer Marmot

    Zaitsef is Toronto’s problem and should remain Toronto’s problem. Let him take up cap space there. Perhaps that will force Toronto to trade a more valuable player to Vancouver.

  • Just to play devil’s advocate but Ryan, does Zaitsev’s zone starts and (lack of) PP time play a factor in his offensive decline?

    Zone Starts: According to Hockey Reference, Zaitsev only starts in the offensive zone 43.8% of the time compared to 56.2% defensively. His Corsi/Fenwick is 48.8%/47.1%. Compare this to Reilly who has 51.3%/50.3% Corsi/Fenwick but gets has averaged 49.0%/51.0% OZ/DZ starts over the last 6 years (55.6%/44.4% last season was an anomaly)?

    PP TOI: After getting 164 PP minutes in 2016-2017, Zaitsev was given 14 and 5 mins TOTAL PP time in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019. That’s 20 minutes of PP time in 141 games. Reilly had 380 PP mins in 158 games over the last 2 years.

    Is it possible that Zaitsev could achieve KHL-type results if he wasn’t treated as a shutdown defender and more as an offensive contributor?

    • Goon

      It’s a good question, but another good question is: Do the Canucks have the defensive depth to take on a $4.5 million defenceman and play him only sheltered 5v5 minutes and powerplay time?

      • Bud Poile

        The Canucks are supposedly negotiating with Karlsson but they desperately require a RHD that can offensively contribute.
        Canucks PP 2018-19 season : 28th in the NHL

        • Doodly Doot

          Karlsson to TB seems like a foregone conclusion. Hedman, McDonagh and Sergachyov are money on the left side. On the right side, they sign EK, keep Stralman, let Girardi walk, and give Cernak enough bottom pairing minutes to keep him developing. They have Rutta for depth, but Cal Foote is in the pipeline. Karlsson’s best shot at a cup I think. They should sign him today because… it’s his birthday!

        • Sharpshooter

          If the Canucks are currently negotiating with Karlsson then that would be tampering. I would hope GMJB would have learned from his last tampering fine.

        • LemonHart

          Bud, this actually a reply to your post about TB having $8.5 in cap space, but it won’t let me reply to that comment.
          Canucks trade a 6th round pick (the one from Washington) to TB for Ryan Callahan and their 2nd round pick next year. That frees up cap space for TB and the Canucks can either play him for the one season he has left or try and trade him, eat half of his salary to make it easier, to some contender that thinks they need ‘Veteran Leadership’ for another pick. Of course Van being on his 16 team list could be an issue.

          I don’t get why you got the 3 trash it! for a simple statement of fact?

          • Ser Jaime Lannister

            LemonHart that scenario doesnt make any sense. Why would Callahan (34) whos chasing a cup (lived/played out east his whole life) who has a modified NTC/NMC even consider the Canucks??? Absolute nonsense!

      • Initially I was in the “stay away from Zaitsev” camp but I was doing a bit more digging today. I don’t think that Zaitsev was sheltered. According to Corsica Hockey, Zaitsev played the same TOI as Reilly, Muzzin and Hainsey and all of them had similar TOI%.QoC and TOI%QoT. Admittedly, I don’t have the eye test for any of these defenders but the metrics seem to indicate that at EV, Zaitsev wasn’t sheltered. He’s generally described as Top 4 although it is good to question whether he is Top 4.

        As for PP time, Zaitsev didn’t get any PP time. In Zaitsev’s pre-big contract year, he had 12 of his 36 points were PP. Then they took him off the PP completely and started him in the D-zone. That helps explain why his points fell off a cliff. Based on his EV points over the last 2 seasons, looks like Zaitsev could contribute about 14-18 EV pts over 82 games. Could he be a 20-30 pt guy with PP time?

        • Goon

          Zaitsev wasn’t sheltered this past season, but his results weren’t good. In order to get solid results, he needs PP time and sheltered, offensive-zone minutes.

          • Ser Jaime Lannister

            Forever1915 he played some of his best hockey with Jake Muzzin as the shutdown pair. People need to remember when youre getting more D zone starts and facing top lines…youre going to lose the CF battle more often than not…thats just the way it goes.

            Kappanen has to be a part of this deal or its no go. Would TO consider Tanev (50% salary retained) and a third round pick for Zaitzev and Kappanen? I wouldnt do it for AJ it has to be KK.

          • Ser Jaime Lannister – Yes, I read that he was playing well with Muzzin. Regarding Zaitsev’s Corsi/Fenwick, what I was wondering was whether Zaitsev would play better in Vancouver if he was put in a more offensive role. His zone starts have always been heavily DZ (54-59%) and his point production plummeted when they took away all of his PP time and give it exclusively to Reilly and Gardiner.

            If we acquired Zaitsev and kept Tanev, we could let Tanev focus on (non-shot blocking) defence and see what Zaitsev could do offensively, when Hughes isn’t on the ice.

  • Kanuckhotep

    Unless Stalin and the NKVD are standing being these guys with Kallistnikovs aimed at them the majority of Russians don’t preform as desired, apologies to the Great Eight of course. Nyet comrade.

    • Doodly Doot

      Zaitsev reminds me a bit of Vladimir Konstantinov in as far as his path to the NHL and his first few years. What is Zaitsev’s upside? Well, it sounds like he wants to create offence. That’s a good thing. I get a sense that Babs is messing with his natural game and that’s why he wants out. Might be intriguing as a partner for either Hughes or Juolevi.

      • Bester27

        Forever 1915, You nailed it about Zaitsev, babs is putting Zaitsev in a role he is not suited for. When we signed him, he was considered a offensive dman, 1pp. But then babs realized how good he was and started playing him in the toughest situations against toughest opponents (to be honest, just burning him out).

        Not sure if he is worth the term, but whomever lands him, will be happy they did.. leaf fan opinion

    • Muttley

      Great idea, let’s try that. We already own the keys anyways.
      Zaitsev is a little on the ho-hum side for me. TOs clearing cap space to try
      and avoid another Nylander situation with Marner.